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Chemical company fined by EPA for 14-day ammonia leak

Release Date: 9/13/2004
Contact Information: Suzanne Powers
(360) 153-9475

September 13, 2004

The Seattle office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that El Paso Merchant Energy - Petroleum Company (former owner of Coastal St. Helens Chemical Company) has agreed to pay $50, 345.20 in penalties for failure to notify authorities immediately after an ammonia leak was discovered at its Coastal St. Helens facility in St. Helens, Oregon (now owned by Dyno Nobel). The company will also purchase $59,581.00 in new communications equipment for local emergency services.

Over a 14-day period from October 28, 2003, to November 11, 2003, the facility released approximately 40,880 pounds of ammonia into the air from a leak in one of its production units. Over that period, 911 logs contained reports from four citizens of a strong ammonia smell.

After the leak was discovered, it was not immediately reported to the National Response Center (NRC) as required by the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The Oregon and Washington State Emergency Response Commissions (SERC), as well as the appropriate Local Emergency Planning Commissions (LEPC) were also not notified in a timely manner as required by the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Emergency responders rely on this information for their safety and that of nearby residents during an emergency.

Ammonia is a colorless gas with a pungent odor. It is used as a refrigerant, a cleaning and bleaching agent, and as an additive in fertilizers, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. In high concentrations, it can cause severe burns to skin, eyes, throat, and lungs, and with high enough exposure, death.

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